“I was a constant improper ratio”

My best friend wrote the words “the girl in this mirror is beautiful” in bright blue dry erase marker on the plastic mirror we hung from our bathroom door. I read it every single day as I played with the mounds of play-dough pieces molded around my hips or my back or underneath my arms. Contact color enhancers, red compression lines from jeans a size too tight on my belly, golden shimmer shadow on my fingertips as I try to brighten up the “not so bad parts.” I used to believe that I was merely a sum of all my good parts: my big smile, long hair, small feet.  I was nineteen and I didn’t always hate myself. It only felt real when I was sitting with my knees against my chest in the shower crying through another night of calling someone I shouldn’t have, washing the self-imagined slime off my skin, crying to myself through the steam so my roommates wouldn’t hear me. Or maybe it was Friday and I found myself tipsy on Burnett’s pink lemonade concoctions and highlighter slurs on my cut-up t-shirt, slipping myself into an unmade bed, trying to trace the chevron pattern on my sheets like it was the edges of his spine. Maybe it was in the morning when I’d weigh myself because I heard that’s when you’re skinniest. Maybe it was the word “skinniest.” As if being thinner meant my heart was bigger. I was a constant improper ratio.

Beautiful was an ammunition word. It was saved for when someone needed me and I sipped on it for as long as I possibly could. As if somehow beautiful was better than brilliant or resilient or brave. Maybe “hot” got him in the door but beautiful got him to stay. I hated being owned by my appearance. I was obsessed with making sure each letter of that word matched something in my own persona. I repeated it over and over again until I forgot what it meant, until it just became static in the back of my head and empty breath between my lips. Then I realized that my scar from falling up concrete stairs on my knee is beautiful. The crinkles like little rakes in the corner of my eyes are beautiful. My tendency to ramble on about Sylvia Plath when I know almost no one is listening is beautiful. I started to fall in love with the frays on my jean shorts and how my thighs filled out the spaces when I sat on bleachers, the lines they’d make like baby impressions on my skin. I wished I could tattoo my stretch marks into me so I could always be reminded of how much I’ve grown. I loved how it felt to put on eyeliner with a crappy R&B song on in the background under the light of a too-bright bathroom with my best friend asking me what she should wear. Gallon jugs of iced tea, throwing pumpkins against brick buildings, going out on a Wednesday, wearing gym socks with my converse and a floral skirt. At some point, it stopped mattering. At some point, the amount of books on my shelf started to tip heavier than the likes on my picture or the amount of looks I received in the hall. I loved late nights and making all the wrong choices and the way Ramen tasted with a beer at 2AM. I loved how every country song started not to sound like him and more like me. I liked the way I sounded.

And with all the noise, the population count, the news headlines, the twisted stories on a shared Facebook post, the reasons I could write on a legal pad for the people I shouldn’t be trusting, this still mattered. Nineteen mattered. I used to only concentrate on supposed big things: having a perfect political view, impressing visiting authors with my whiny girl love poetry, picking a graduate school, pleasing every single person but myself. But what I think every nineteen year old girl forgets is that being nineteen is just as important as being twenty-five. What happens to you right now is just as important as what will happen to you ten, twenty, sixty years from now. If I were to tell you what it was really like, it was hell. It was empty Pringle cans in the passenger seat, forgetting how hard I actually needed to study for this test, kissing some guy’s best friend when I shouldn’t have, creating art that was, for the first time, a true representation of me, moving words around in a way that made even the condensation circle on a wooden table match galaxy swirls in the sky. It was asking all the wrong questions just so I could get the right answers. Nineteen was the year I learned to love myself, and now I’m twenty-one and I swear to you I still make all the worst choices. But my days no longer end with shaming myself or my skin in the bathroom or wishing I could spit and smudge that message away like somehow it wouldn’t make it real. I don’t cuss away my bad habits or coddle negativity in arms like childhood toy. I write and I move and grab my broken hairbrush and sing my favorite song in my underwear like the only thing in the world that should matter at that exact moment is the smile that stretches across my face when I flick the hair off my shoulder and love what I see.

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